Archive for March, 2014

Another short priced favourite on the interest rate indicator

March 31st, 2014 Comments off

On the eve of the Reserve Bank board’s April meeting the Owl’s indicator pointed strongly to there being no change.

31-03-2014 aprilinterestindicator


You will find all the Owl’s current indicators HERE.

Categories: Political indicators Tags:

One for that Joe Hockey audit commission: change the font and save millions

March 31st, 2014 Comments off

Chanel No. 5 perfume costs $38 per ounce. The equivalent amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink can cost up to $75. So if you are a big printer like a government saving ink can produce a big saving.

That was the theory of 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani when he was given the task at his Pittsburgh-area middle school of trying to think of ways to cut waste and save money . CNN tells the story:


Interested in applying computer science to promote environmental sustainability, Suvir decided he was going to figure out if there was a better way to minimize the constant flurry of paper and ink.

Reducing paper use through recycling and dual-sided printing had been talked about before as a way to save money and conserve resources, but there was less attention paid to the ink for which the paper served as a canvas for history and algebra handouts…

Collecting random samples of teachers’ handouts, Suvir concentrated on the most commonly used characters (e, t, a, o and r).

First, he charted how often each character was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans. Then he measured how much ink was used for each letter, using a commercial tool called APFill® Ink Coverage Software.

Next he enlarged the letters, printed them and cut them out on cardstock paper to weigh them to verify his findings. He did three trials for each letter, graphing the ink usage for each font.

From this analysis, Suvir figured out that by using Garamond with its thinner strokes, his school district could reduce its ink consumption by 24%, and in turn save as much as $21,000 annually.

Encouraged by his teacher, Suvir looked to publish his findings and stumbled on the Journal for Emerging Investigators (JEI), a publication founded by a group of Harvard grad students in 2011 that provides a forum for the work of middle school and high school students. It has the same standards as academic journals, and each submission is reviewed by grad students and academics.

Suvrir was then challenged  to apply his project to a larger scale: the federal government which, with has an annual printing expenditure of $1.8 billion.

Suvir repeated his tests on five sample pages from documents on the Government Printing Office website and got similar results —change the font, save money.

Using the General Services Administration’s estimated annual cost of ink — $467 million — Suvir concluded that if the federal government used Garamond exclusively it could save nearly 30% — or $136 million per year. An additional $234 million could be saved annually if state governments also jumped on board, he reported.

Categories: Public service Tags:

Strange words from Tony Abbott and other news and views for Monday 31 March

March 31st, 2014 Comments off


  • I thought that Facebook post must have been based on a mistake or something but no. I checked on the PM’s website and he actually said it!
  • China seizes $14.5 billion assets from family, associates of ex-security chief: sources – “Chinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) from family members and associates of retired domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China’s biggest corruption scandal in more than six decades, two sources said. More than 300 of Zhou’s relatives, political allies, proteges and staff have also been taken into custody or questioned in the past four months, the sources, who have been briefed on the investigation, told Reuters.”
  • Why Islamic parties don’t win Indonesian elections – “Lost claims to moral superiority and a lack of ideological difference to secular parties has made it difficult for Islam-oriented parties to compete in Indonesian politics. Another lost selling point has come with the improved provision of social welfare by secular parties, undercutting the services provided in health and education by NU and Muhammadiyah. Though still far from perfect, government welfare services are improving and in some cases now cater better to poorer voters than those provided by the two big Muslim organisations.”
  • Operation sovereign borders – “ABC News Online documents the first six months of Operation Sovereign Borders, exploring the structure and events that have characterised the operation.”
  • Do Big Banks Have Lower Operating Costs?
  • The tyranny of party politics – “If economics is subordinated to party politics, some issues will be kept off the agenda. Neither Labour nor the Tories would be keen on an economics writer who raises thoughts such as: maybe politicians can’t do anything to raise long-term economic growth; perhaps bosses pay is a reward for power rather than skill; economic forecasting is impossible so talk about fiscal policy in the next parliament is mostly otious; or perhaps there are more intelligent ways of allocating public goods than by government decree.”
  • The price of political uncertainty – “Despite obvious ties between political uncertainty and financial markets, the nature of this connection has not been studied in detail. This column describes a theoretical framework for evaluating the influence of political uncertainty on financial markets. Political uncertainty commands a risk premium, especially when the economy is weak. By raising firms’ cost of capital, it depresses investment and real activity. Furthermore, by raising risk premia, political uncertainty destroys market value.”
  • Thailand’s ‘red shirts’ gear up for a fight – “The clock is ticking for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who faces impeachment within weeks, but her supporters are hatching plans to thwart any move to dismiss her, with some leaders assembling what amount to militias.”
  • Why We Got Fatter During The Fat-Free Food Boom
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Castrating hogs to cut through the media clutter in political campaigning

March 30th, 2014 Comments off

I’m  Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington I’ll know how to cut pork

30-03-2014 castratinghogs

That’s the message as the relatively unknown Joni Ernst seeks the Iowa Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nomination. Her television ad is designed to cut through the media clutter without the huge expense of constant repetition.

Brian Donahue, a strategist with Craft Media, told National Public Radio that when you see an ad like Ernst’s you’re also viewing a message based on political consultants’ understanding that emotion resonates more with voters than repetition.

It’s that emotional reverberation that sends it viral. “That causes what we call ‘the Buzzfeed effect,’ ” Donahue says, whose firm counts Republican political campaigns among its clients. “It compels you to do more than just shape an opinion. It compels you to share it too. Which is why so many people are seeing an ad like this.

“It did something different and it was so unpredictable,” Donahue says. “We had a female candidate running for office and she’s talking about castration and relates it to members of Congress, which is pretty unbelievable stuff. But beyond the race she’s running, people are sharing it online and that’s the effect you want to create. And that’s what emotionally, cutting-edge media does. It takes on its own life.”

Lori Raad, a consultant whose political-messaging firm, Something Else Strategies, is behind the Ernst ad, said she knew just the word itself was going to get noticed.

“Of course, our goal was for people to watch long enough to learn about Joni Ernst,” Raad says. “I wouldn’t have guessed that people would’ve linked to it to this extent, although you always hope.”


Categories: Elections, US Election Tags:

Will his wish be granted with the words “Arise Sir Alexander Downer”?

March 26th, 2014 Comments off

I had always thought of my old paper the Sydney Telegraph as being a journal of record but it’s not so any longer it seems. Prompted by a twitterer I went looking for a Tony Abbott promise on the question of knights and dames, entered the code – and this was the sad result:

26-03-2014 notfoundBut for history’s sake I was grateful for this from Sir Tim Þe Enchanter ‏@timb07 :

From where I rescued this:

26-03-2014 noknightsWith these being the key pars:

26-03-2014 knightsanddames



Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

Paul Krugman on the economics book of the year and other news and views for Wednesday 26 March

March 26th, 2014 Comments off

26-03-2014 capitalpikketty

  • Wealth Over Work – “It seems safe to say that “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year — and maybe of the decade. Mr. Piketty, arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality, does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent.”2014-03-26_googlecompare
  • Apples Vs. Oranges: Google Tool Offers Ultimate Nutrition Smackdown
  • Putin and the Laws of Gravity – “The morning after, he was the hero of Russia. Some moronic commentators here even expressed the wish that we had such a “decisive” leader. Well, let’s see what Putin looks like the morning after the morning after, say, in six months. I make no predictions, but I will point out this. Putin is challenging three of the most powerful forces on the planet all at once: human nature, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law. Good luck with that.”
  • Australia’s luck runs out as China slows – By Henny Sender in London’ Financial Times: “Reasons to be bearish on currency and country grow daily; There is only one good reason not to short the Aussie dollar: it is expensive. But the grounds for taking a bearish view on both the currency and the country become more compelling by the day.”
  • Profiles in Courage at the IRS (Really) – ” Randolph W. Thrower was IRS commissioner from 1969 to 1971. The Nixon White House insisted that the IRS audit the president’s enemies. Thrower, a lifelong Republican, refused to do it. According to the Washington Post, he also refused to hire Nixon dirty tricksters John Caulfield and G. Gordon Liddy. In 1971, Thrower asked to meet with Nixon, believing that the president would be appalled at the attempt to use the nonpartisan agency as a political tool. Instead of a meeting, Nixon aide and future Watergate convict John Erlichman called to tell him he was fired. After Mr. Thrower was thrown out, Nixon told top aides the kind of IRS commissioner he wanted.

    I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch that he will do what he is told, that every income tax return I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends. … Now it’s as simple as that. If he isn’t, he doesn’t get the job. We’ve got to have somebody like that for a change in this place.

    Thrower died last Thursday at the age of 100.

Keeping it in the family – dad looks after his Murdoch boys

March 26th, 2014 Comments off

The succession planning in the Murdoch empire has reached a new stage with dad Rupert promoting sons Lachlan and James to key posts at News Corp and 21st Century Fox.

Lachlan now has the titles of non-executive co-chairman at both companies. James becomes co-chief operating officer at 21st Century Fox.


In a statement the proud dad had this to say about Lachlan’s elevation at News:

“This appointment is a sign of confidence in the growth potential of News Corp. and a recognition of Lachlan’s entrepreneurial leadership and passion for news, digital media and sport.

“In this elevated role, Lachlan will help us lead News Corp. forward as we expand our reach and invest in new technologies and markets around the world. We have many challenges and opportunities ahead, and Lachlan’s strategic thinking and vast knowledge of our businesses will enable me as executive chairman and the company as a whole to deliver the best outcomes on behalf of our stockholders, employees and customers.”

And of the pair of his offspring moving up t 21st Century Fox the old fellow commented:

“Lachlan is a strategic and talented executive with a rich knowledge of our businesses. From 1994 to 2007, Lachlan’s executive career at the company spanned the globe, culminating as deputy chief operating officer responsible for the group’s most important publishing businesses in addition to its vast U.S. television station holdings. I’m very pleased he is returning to a leadership role at the company, where he will work closely with me, Chase, James, and the rest of the board of directors to drive continued growth for years to come.

“We are pleased to elevate James into this important role alongside my partner and trusted advisor Chase Carey. I’m confident James and Chase will continue to make a great team during this time of immense opportunity. James has done an outstanding job driving our global television businesses and our shareholders, customers, and colleagues will benefit greatly from his many talents.

“This company has never been better positioned to capitalize on the increased global demand for quality storytelling and news, and our collective future has never been brighter.”

Categories: Media Tags:

Butter Is Back – No evidence that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease

March 26th, 2014 Comments off

via Butter Is Back –

Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.

That the worm is turning became increasingly evident a couple of weeks ago, when a meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.) The researchers looked at 72 different studies and, as usual, said more work — including more clinical studies — is needed. For sure. But the days of skinless chicken breasts and tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! may finally be drawing to a close.

Categories: Eating Tags:

Will the left handers give Wikileaks a Senate seat from West Australia?

March 26th, 2014 Comments off

It appears we all have a tendency to veer to the left when it comes to voting. Not towards some philosophical left. Rather an actual geographic one. And left handed people veer left much more strongly than right handers.

That, at least, is the finding of a recent experiment published in the journal Political Psychology.  The paper, Moderators of Candidate Name-Order Effects in Elections: An Experiment by Nuri Kim, Jon Krosnick and Daniel Casasanto, was based on an experimental election of two hypothetical candidates, each diverging on issues and each randomly sorted into a left or right spot on the ballot. Just as previous studies have shown a donkey vote favouring the first named candidate when people vote down a list,  candidates listed on the left-hand side of this experimental ballot enjoyed a distinct advantage in gaining votes compared with those on their right. What made the finding different came when comparing the votes of left handed people with right handed ones. “Everyone, even righties, had a bias to select the candidate on the left, but that tendency was stronger in lefties,” author Casasanto says.

The paper itself is behind a pay wall but this is the abstract:

Past studies of elections have shown that candidates whose names were listed at the beginning of a list on a ballot often received more votes by virtue of their position. This article tests speculations about the cognitive mechanisms that might be responsible for producing the effect. In an experiment embedded in a large national Internet survey, participants read about the issue positions of two hypothetical candidates and voted for one of them in a simulated election in which candidate name order was varied. The expected effect of position appeared and was strongest (1) when participants had less information about the candidates on which to base their choices, (2) when participants felt more ambivalent about their choices, (3) among participants with more limited cognitive skills, and (4) among participants who devoted less effort to the candidate evaluation process. The name-order effect was greater among left-handed people when the candidate names were arrayed horizontally, but there was no difference between left- and right-handed people when the names were arrayed vertically. These results reinforce some broad theoretical accounts of the cognitive process that yield name-order effects in elections.

A report in the National Journal gives more details.

Let’s break down the results of the Political Psychology paper. Righties showed a bias for the candidate on the left because it is the first name they read. That’s consistent with other research on primacy, that there’s a bias for the first in a list. Lefties showed that effect, as well as an additional left-hand bias: Lefties chose the candidate on the left because his was the first name they read and because they have a positive association with things on the left. Whereas among righties, the candidate on the left showed a 21 percent advantage, among lefties, that jumped up to a 36 percent advantage.

There’s a huge caveat here. These results were pulled from an experiment on a fictitious election. And they are the first of their kind—it takes years of repetitive results to nail down a phenomenon. So take caution in extrapolation. “I don’t expect that we would see anything like that enormous, ridiculous, percentage point difference in real elections,” Casasanto says of the 21 percent and 36 percent advantages. “But in light of Jon [Krosnick]’s previous data. I think we have every reason to believe that these effects are and can be found in real elections.”

That previous data is contained in a forthcoming paper in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly that, analyses all statewide California elections between 1976 and 2006. California rotates candidate ballot order district by district. The analysis found when candidates were listed first (no matter the ballot type), “on average, across all contests, candidates received nearly half a percentage point of additional votes compared to when they were listed either in the average of all later positions.”

In Australia the Wikileaks Party will be encouraged by this kind of research. In the new Western Australian Senate election it has drawn the prized Column A on the left hand side of a very wide ballot paper.

Last time around, when it was positioned elsewhere on the paper, Wikileaks managed only a paltry 0.73 per cent of the WA vote. That saw it eliminated quite early in the shuffling of minor party preferences that enabled a small primary vote to end up electing one of the political tiddlers in both versions of the counts that were finally held invalid leading to next month’s new poll.

Add half a percentage point because of the favourable draw and the chances of Wikileaks start looking a lot better. Add on a bit more for the impact of lefties and the Antony Green Senate Calculator: Western Australia shows them really in the race taking into account the latest lot of minor party wheeling and dealing over preferences.

Some examples:

The Wikileaks vote remains unchanged at 0.73%

2014-03-26_waresult1Wikileaks would make it to the 17th count before being excluded.

The Wikileaks vote improves by 0.5 percentage points to 1.23% – the same six elected with Wikileaks surviving until the 19th count before being eliminated.

The Wikileaks vote improves by 0.6 percentage points to 1.33%


And there we would have it: a Wikileaks Senator. A good reason for Julian Assange and his followers to get those left handers into the polling booths.

Categories: Elections, WA Senate new election Tags:

Australia on top of developed world growth list but be warned – it is just a forecast

March 26th, 2014 Comments off

The group of economists polled regularly by The Economist on future trends have Australia growing faster than other developed countries during 2015.


Categories: Economic matters Tags:

Oh do shut up dear! The public voice of women and other news and views for Tuesday 25 March

March 25th, 2014 Comments off


  • The Public Voice of Women – A London Review of Books lecture at the British Museum by Mary Beard – ” I want to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public.”
  • For our most powerful and hypocritical leaders, crimes are those that others commit – “Is there a better case study in brazen hypocrisy than the ongoing crisis in Crimea? Not just on the part of the loathsome Vladimir Putin, who defends Syria’s sovereignty while happily violating Ukraine’s, but on the part of western governments, too.”
  • Ukraine and the Crisis of International Law – “As frightening as the Ukraine crisis is, the more general disregard of international law in recent years must not be overlooked. Without diminishing the seriousness of Russia’s recent actions, we should note that they come in the context of repeated violations of international law by the US, the EU, and NATO. Every such violation undermines the fragile edifice of international law, and risks throwing the world into a lawless war of all against all.”
  • How to use a bank tax to make the financial system safer – “The current approach to taxing banks is perverse. It encourages precisely the kind of behaviour that supervisory authorities are trying to curb. Bank regulation requires banks to keep their equity above a specified level. Yet corporate taxation encourages the banks to use more debt and less equity. This perversity comes from the fact that corporate tax is levied on the banks’ profits. When a bank borrows money to finance its balance sheet, it incurs interest expenses that can be deducted against profits for tax purposes. The greater a bank’s borrowings, the larger the interest payments and the lower its tax bill. Tax bank liabilities instead of profits, and you will disadvantage liabilities more and bank capital less. Making that change would encourage banks to be better capitalised and stronger.
  • The Doctor and the Saint – Arundhati Roy on Ambedkar, Gandhi and the battle against caste.

The virtues of reintroducing risk into childrens’ playtime and other news and views for Sunday 23 March

March 23rd, 2014 Comments off

22-03-2014 ruilebook

Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

The banking industry has discovered that it can thrive without trust and other news and views for Thursday 20 March

March 20th, 2014 Comments off
  • You Don’t Say – “Peter Eavis… highlighted a statement… by… William Dudley (formerly of Goldman Sachs, then a top lieutenant to Tim Geithner): There is evidence of deep-seated cultural and ethical failures at many large financial institutions…. In 2008… people probably thought that our largest banks were just guilty of shoddy risk management, dubious sales practices, and excessive risk-taking… we’ve had to add price fixing, money laundering, bribery, and systematic fraud on the judicial system…. Framing the problem as a ‘trust issue’—customers no longer see banks as trustworthy institutions—is beside the point. Wall Street’s main defense is that its clients already realize that investment banks do not have their buy-side clients’ best interests at heart, and clients who don’t realize that are chumps. And in the wake of the financial crisis, I suspect there are few individuals out there who believe that their banks are there to help them. The banking industry has discovered that it can thrive without trust, which is not surprising; retail depositors trust the FDIC, and bond investors know that trust isn’t part of the equation…”
  • How wars can be started by history textbooks – “The imposition of an authorised version of events turns education into brainwashing.”
  • The Programmed Prospect Before Us – Robert Skidelsky reviews Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans by Simon Head.  “The philosopher Hubert Dreyfus famously argued that artificial intelligence cannot mimic higher mental functions. No activity that requires intelligent behavior can be done by computers, he wrote, because algorithms cannot adequately structure the complex situations that are addressed by intelligent thinking. However, in most of the business activities described in this book, no intelligent behavior is required of most workers: the intelligence is provided by the managers; the workers only have to follow the rules of highly simplified situations. I see no reason in principle why the rules of behavior for such situations cannot be followed by machines… Recently, Michael Scherer, a Time magazine bureau chief, received a phone call from a young lady, Samantha West, asking him if he wanted a deal on health insurance. After she responded to a number of his queries in what sounded like prerecorded fashion, he asked her point-blank whether she was a robot, to which he got the reply “I am human.” When he repeated the question, the connection was cut off. Samantha West turned out to be a system of recorded messages that were part of a computer program created by the brokers for health insurance The point is not that humans were not involved, but that the experts had worked out that far fewer of them needed to be involved to sell a given quantity of health insurance. Orthodox economics tells us that automating such transactions, by lowering the cost of health insurance, will enable many more policies to be sold, or release money for other kinds of spending, thus replacing the jobs lost. But orthodox economics never had to deal with competition between humans and machines.
  • The sun never sets on Eton’s empire – “Controversy over the school reflects the increasing polarisation between rich and poor.”
  •  Einstein’s Lost Theory Discovered … And It’s Wrong – “Faced with evidence the universe was growing, Einstein apparently wanted to figure out why it wasn’t filling up with empty space. His proposed solution is in this newly discovered paper. As the universe expanded, he suggested, new matter showed up to fill the gaps. New stars and galaxies would just pop up, according to Einstein’s model, so that even as the universe grew, it would look the same. Just to be clear, this theory is totally wrong. But for a little while Einstein thought it was right. The numbers made sense, because he had made a mathematical mistake. In the middle of a complicated calculation, he wrote a minus sign where he should have written a plus.”
  • Half Of Americans Believe In Medical Conspiracy Theories – “Despite evidence to the contrary, many Americans believe cellphones cause cancer and that health officials are covering it up. Discredited theories about vaccines and fluoridation also remain popular.”

Most disruptive parliament ever? House of Representatives well on way to a sin binning record

March 20th, 2014 Comments off

This parliamentary year is shaping up as the most disruptive in the 21 years that members of the Australian House of Representatives have been subject to an hour’s expulsion for disorderly behaviour. The following figures from the parliamentary library are updated to show the annual rate for this year based on sittings so far.



Categories: Political snippets Tags:

The bankers united will never be defeated

March 20th, 2014 Comments off

I dip my lid to the cartoonist. About bankers – what else is there to say? From Moir on Twitter.

Categories: Ticket clippers Tags:

Reconfirming the public’s worst fears about what really goes on behind the closed doors of government.

March 20th, 2014 Comments off

A powerful and insightful piece by Quentin Dempster on the latest NSW ICAC enquiry. Arthur Sinodinos looks like he will have some real questions to answer.

The ICAC’s destruction hits both sides – The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Also significantly, [Counsel Assisting Geoffrey]Watson [SC] has declared that although the ICAC has interviewed O’Farrell on camera (O’Farrell acknowledged an association with Di Girolamo), “we have found no evidence to implicate” him in any corruption.

Watson also “cleared” former Liberal finance minister Greg Pearce and former Labor treasurer Michael Costa, who served as chairman of AWH for a time after Sinodinos.

But Watson  did not “clear” Sinodinos, now a Senator and Assistant Treasurer in the Abbott Federal Government.

“It’s presently difficult to offer observations on the conduct of Mr Sinodinos. He has other involvements which will come under scrutiny in Operation Spicer,” Watson said.

At the moment the Prime Minister is standing by Senator Sinodinos. Sinodinos denies impropriety and is entitled to the presumption of innocence, as are all the adversely named so far at the ICAC ‘s current investigation.

As previously reported, ICAC hearings are  inquisitorial proceedings held in public after preliminary and extensive in camera inquiry. It is likely Sinodinos has already been asked in to assist and has answered  questions under oath.

He will have to endure a painful wait to see exactly what the ICAC, which has coercive powers, has on him. There was an audible sucking in of breath when Watson remarked that it’s “difficult to offer observations on the conduct of Mr Sinodinos”.

Although Watson has a headline-grabbing descriptive ability it would be  an act of cruelty and irresponsibility to use these words without full consideration of their impact.

In the weeks and months ahead the constant media coverage will re-confirm the public’s worst fears about what really goes on behind the closed doors of government.

The Liberal Party will stand besmirched and tainted, its high moral ground destroyed after five years of advantageous revelation.

Categories: Lobbying and PR Tags:

How Japanese Single Malts Surpassed Scotland’s Finest – Bloomberg

March 20th, 2014 Comments off

Considering there are only seven active single-malt distilleries in Japan, the variety of styles is startling. All share a basic DNA with traditional Scotch: Japanese whisky also starts with malted barley imported from Scotland, because it’s the best and the cheapest.

And yet there are differences. The Japanese don’t acquire whiskies from other distilleries to make their distinctive blends, the way the Scots do. Instead, each distillery creates its many in-house variations using an array of copper pot stills and wooden barrels.

The resulting whiskies are more floral, with softer, silkier textures, than those from Scotland. At Nikka’s Yoichi distillery, the pot stills are heated by coal fires, as opposed to steam, which gives their single malts richer, peatier flavors.

And the Yamazaki distillery’s use of virgin mizunara barrels contributes aromas of temple incense and sandalwood. Climate and landscape are also key flavor influencers. Whiskies produced at higher elevations, such as those at Suntory’s Hakushu distillery in the southern Japanese Alps, are notably clean and crisp, as are those from the Fuji-Gotemba distillery, which uses snowmelt from Mt. Fuji.

via How Japanese Single Malts Surpassed Scotland’s Finest – Bloomberg.

Categories: Drinking Tags:

Rolf Harris disappears from page one. Maybe Her Majesty was not amused.

March 20th, 2014 Comments off

Buy the paper and see it.

20-03-2014 harriscuddle

20-03-2014 rolfpredator

Look on the web and miss it.


And is this the reason for a British court prohibiting publication?


Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

A reminder that shorty priced election favourites can get beaten

March 19th, 2014 Comments off

Just a reminder that favourites can get beaten.

I did not produce an Owl’s election indicator on the South Australian election because the only markets available were the very fragile ones of the corporate bookmakers. Just how fragile was shown on Saturday morning when they stopped betting after Newspoll in The Australian came out suggesting, accurately as it turned out, that it was going to be a close run thing.

The night before, when I checked, the major firms had the Liberals around $1.02 with Labor at $15. Take out the bookmaker’s margin and the assessment was round about a 94% chance of a Liberal win with Labor on 6%.

The result is still uncertain but anyone who took the $1.02 would be feeling a little uncomfortable at the moment. And the Kouk’s red rover should be sweating a little as well.



A taste of the tobacco to come? Another profitable drug for organised crime

March 19th, 2014 Comments off

There is the tobacco this morning, nestled in beside the cannabis in the Melbourne Age’s front page. And if organised crime considers growing tobacco plants in glass houses a profitable enterprise today, imagine what it will be after another two annual rises in excise of 12.5% that the federal parliament enacted this month.


Categories: Political snippets Tags:

Pick the parliamentary losers – how many MPs will be ejected during House of Representatives question time on Wednesday?

March 18th, 2014 Comments off

Monday’s record: three members directed, under standing order 94, to leave the Chamber for one hour

Tuesday’s record: nine members directed, under standing order 94, to leave the Chamber for one hour

How many will be forced to leave the parliamentary circus on Wednesday?

Categories: Political snippets Tags:

Antony Green’s guide to making sense of WA’s forthcoming Senate poll

March 18th, 2014 Comments off

Antony Green’s Election Blog: A Summary of Preferences and Candidates for the WA Senate Re-election.

If you re-run last September’s Western Australian Senate election with the same votes but using the new Senate preference tickets, then the result of the WA Senate re-election on April 5 would be 3 Liberal, 2 Labor and 1 Palmer United.

This is the same as the result of the first count last September, the subsequent re-count and disaster of missing ballot papers changing the result to 3 Liberal and one each for Labor, the Greens and Sport Party…

For the re-election, several micro-parties have directed preferences in a way that now helps Labor to reach its second quota and makes it harder for the Green’s Scott Ludlam to win without a significant rise in his vote.

Australia’s most boring viewing and reading – Media Watch versus The Australian

March 18th, 2014 Comments off

It’s hard to know what’s more boring – other people talking about Andrew Bolt or the ABC’s Media Watch and The Australian taking verbal pot shots at each other. Last night Paul Barry gave us both.

  • Will the ABC apologise to Bolt?
    After comments on last Monday’s Q&A, Marcia Langton says Andrew Bolt is not a racist. But will the ABC apologise anyway?
  • Sorry, John – an update
    Last week Media Watch looked at some selective editing of a letter to the editor by The Australian. This week we bring an update.

Wouldn’t it be nice if just occasionally, just every now and then, the national broadcaster could broaden its horizons to analyse something serious. And no. I don’t mean having another dig at that other Media Watch standby the shallowness of current affairs television.

2014-03-18_tebloidtvOn balance I think I’d rather watch shallow than boring.


Gay rights and Guinness produce the headline of the day

March 17th, 2014 Comments off

17-03-2014 draughtdodge

17-03-2014 gay

Categories: American media, Media, Sexual politics Tags:

Reforms to test Chinese leaders’ tolerance for pain and other news and views for Friday 14 March

March 14th, 2014 Comments off
  • Reforms to test Chinese leaders’ tolerance for pain – “China’s leaders are treading a narrow path in trying to free up the world’s second-largest economy without stoking social unrest.”
  • Media squeeze tightens as Russia harks back to WW2 – “… President Vladimir Putin is tightening his grip over news. As the crisis in Ukraine escalates, that news has taken on shades of Soviet-era propaganda, with anchors and reporters peppering their reports with references to what they say was the cooperation of some Ukrainians with the Nazis in World War Two.”
  • Russia holds war games near Ukraine; Merkel warns of catastrophe
  • A Relentless Widening of Disparity in Wealth – “What if inequality were to continue growing years or decades into the future? Say the richest 1 percent of the population amassed a quarter of the nation’s income, up from about a fifth today. What about half? To believe Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, this future is not just possible. It is likely. In his bracing “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which hit bookstores on Monday, Professor Piketty provides a fresh and sweeping analysis of the world’s economic history that puts into question many of our core beliefs about the organization of market economies. His most startling news is that the belief that inequality will eventually stabilize and subside on its own, a long-held tenet of free market capitalism, is wrong. Rather, the economic forces concentrating more and more wealth into the hands of the fortunate few are almost sure to prevail for a very long time.”
  • The Proportion of Young Americans Who Drive Has Plummeted—And No One Knows Why
  • It’s an ad, ad, ad, ad world – “The battle royale for media supremacy will soon be engaged. But rather than pit old media against new, or even BuzzFeed vs. Gawker, it will pit the sharpies of the advertising industry — who know more about attention and profit than us all — against everybody else.
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Can TV news bulletins remain relevant to young viewers?

March 14th, 2014 Comments off

Broadcasters grapple with the future of TV news –

British news broadcasters are facing a battle for younger viewers’ attention, with new technology exacerbating time-honoured fears that teenagers are not interested in current affairs.

At stake is whether the flagship news bulletins can remain relevant to a generation used to the bite-sized coverage available online.


Categories: Media Tags:

The Unhealthy Meat Market –

March 13th, 2014 Comments off

This industrial agriculture system also has imposed enormous costs of three kinds.

First, it has been a catastrophe for animals. Chickens are bred to grow huge breasts so that as adults they topple forward and can barely breathe or stand…

Second, factory farming endangers our health… the hogs in a single county in North Carolina produce half as much waste as all the people in New York City, Martin says… Another health concern is that antibiotics are routinely fed to animals and birds to help them grow quickly in crowded, dirty conditions. This can lead to antibiotic resistant infections

Third, this industrial model has led to a hollowing out of rural America. The heartland is left with a few tycoons and a large number of people struggling at the margins…

But a starting point is to recognize bluntly that our industrial food system is unhealthy. It privatizes gains but socializes the health and environmental costs. It rewards shareholders — Tyson’s stock price has quadrupled since early 2009 — but can be ghastly for the animals and humans it touches. Industrial meat has an acrid aftertaste.


via The Unhealthy Meat Market –

Categories: Animal welfare Tags:

Australia and the USA: different directions on penalty rates

March 13th, 2014 Comments off

While I am waiting for bankers, stock brokers and other financial wizards to embrace the seven day week, I note that in the United States they are moving in a different direction to us when it comes to penalty rates. President Barack Obama is pushing to extend penalty rates to more workers while here Eric Abetz wants to narrow their scope.

An editorial in this morning’s New York Times explains the new Obama approach:

For the first 40 years of its existence, a worker’s right to time-and-a-half for overtime, established by federal law in 1938, operated as intended. It guarded against exploitation and inequality by ensuring that extra hours meant extra pay.

Since the mid-1970s, however, that right has been severely eroded. The law gives the Labor Department the authority to update the salary threshold and job descriptions that define who is eligible for overtime pay. The last meaningful update was in 1975, when the Ford administration raised the salary threshold significantly to account for inflation.

In 2004, rule changes by the Bush administration, which remain in force today, basically locked in the law’s by-then outdated and inadequate salary threshold, while giving employers more leeway to define workers in ways that make them ineligible for overtime pay.

President Obama’s directive to the Labor Department to revamp the nation’s overtime rules is an opportunity to undo the damage. By reasserting a meaningful right to overtime, it could lift pay for an estimated five million workers a week and, in the process, help to mitigate the wage stagnation and income inequality that increasingly plague the American economy.

The most important change the department can make is to raise the salary threshold — the pay level below which all hourly and salaried workers are guaranteed overtime pay. Today’s threshold, $455 a week, is unacceptably low, barely above the poverty level for a family of four. The Labor Department should set the new threshold at around $1,000 a week, which is where it would be if it simply had been adjusted for inflation since 1975.

Categories: Economic matters Tags:

Bragging rights contest – Pick the South Australian election winners

March 13th, 2014 Comments off

A little contest to test your political wisdom when the votes come in from Adelaide on Sunday night. Mark your assessment of the Liberals winning in every seat and the honour and glory could be yours.

In keeping with The Owl’s desire to be the thinking person’s political blogger the contest is not completely straight forward. We have chosen the methodology of the wonderful Probabilistic Competition that the smart people of Monash University run each year on the AFL. I’ll defer to their explanation of the scoring:

The probabilistic competition involves the tipper entering the probability (between 0 and 1) that they believe a team will win the match. It is sometimes also referred to as the information theoretic or info competition. The father of information theory was Claude Shannon.

In a traditional tipping competition, the tipper is forced to choose one team as the outright winner. However the tipper still believes that the other team does have some chance, just not as much as the team they chose. (In closely matched games, you may even think it will be a draw.) Choosing a probability allows the tipper to express their uncertainty or confidence level in the outcome.

It can be simply proven that the highest expected score can be achieved by tipping the true probability. (Even though the true probability is never known.)

The scoring system works as follows: If the tipper assigns probability p to team A winning, then the score (in “bits”) gained is:

  • If A wins: 1 + log2(p)
  • If A loses: 1 + log2(1 – p)

From the above we can see that the maximum gain of 1.0 is obtained by tipping 1.0 on the winning team. This however is very risky as maximum loss of -Infinity is achieved by tipping 1.0 on the losing team.

The scoring is not symmetrical and can be very non-intuitive for the beginner. The table below gives example tips and the scores (in bits) you would receive if your team won and if your team lost. Note that p values less than 0.5 are equivalent to tipping the other team with 1.0-p. Also, p=0.5 is equivalent to sitting on the fence – you neither gain nor lose any bits. Some examples:



An El Niño looking more likely reports Australian Bureau of Meteorology

March 11th, 2014 Comments off

International climate models surveyed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology indicate that warming of the tropical Pacific is likely in the coming months, with most models showing temperatures approaching or exceeding El Niño thresholds during the austral winter. In its latest review of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) released today the Bureau said that while current conditions remained neutral – neither El Niño nor La Niña, “recent observations indicate that warming of the tropical Pacific is occurring.”

The tropical Pacific Ocean sub-surface has warmed substantially over the past few weeks, which is likely to result in a warming of the sea surface in the coming months. A recent burst of westerly winds over the far western Pacific is the strongest seen since at least 2009 – the last time an El Niño developed.

El Niño is often, but not always, associated with below-average rainfall during the second half of the year across large parts of southern and inland eastern Australia. Daytime temperatures also tend to be above average over southern Australia.

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is typically too weak to have a significant influence on the Australian climate from December to April. Current model outlooks indicate a neutral IOD through late autumn and early winter. However, the chance of a positive IOD event is elevated during El Niño.

Temperatures world-wide tend to rise considerably under the influence of an El Niño so climate change studiers will be following developments over the next few months with considerable interest.



That graph is from the Skeptical Science website (“Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism”) which makes this comment about the El Niño/La Niña influence on global temperatures:

Climate change “skeptics” sometimes claim that global warming has somehow magically stopped in recent years based on their “cherry picking” short time periods of reduced temperature increase.  However, in reality there was a preponderance of El Niño events in the 1990s and a preponderance of La Niña events since 2000, where the former cause short-term surface warming and the latter cause short-term cooling.  Accounting for the El Niño/La Niña influence clarifies that human-caused global warming continues unabated.

Some other information on the likelihood of an El Niño developing:

2014-03-10_outlook1(Click to enlarge)

2014-03-10_outlook2 (Click to enlarge)

2014-03-10_outlook3(Click to enlarge)

Categories: Environment Tags:

Holden Caulfield in Beijing — Chinese Have Found a Reason to Care about U.S. Literature and other news and views for Tuesday 11 March

March 11th, 2014 Comments off


  • Holden Caulfield in Beijing — Chinese Have Found a Reason to Care about U.S. Literature – “In the 1980s, the novel’s attack on conservative social mores resonated with the liberal and iconoclastic zeitgeist of a newly opened China; in the early 1990s, its cynic and frustrated tone gave expression to the despondency of Chinese youth, who had just seen their democratic ideals crushed by the massacre of student protesters in central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. The 21st century, which has brought China unprecedented material wealth and social inequality, has granted the book new relevance.”
  • Beyond Ukraine: Russia’s Imperial Mess– “But Putin is no gambler, nor is he looking for excuses to raze cities to the ground. And even though he is playing a high-stakes game of poker, he also isn’t putting everything on the line. Instead, it seems highly likely that Putin will stop when he faces the threat of a major war. In this respect, he has not lost touch with reality in the way the German chancellor believes. Instead, he is ruthlessly exploiting all his options, taking things to a limit which he knows very well. He is not doing so out of strength but out of weakness. In fact, this Crimean campaign could be the last imperial twitch of a Russia that has shrunk to the point of being a medium-sized power.”
  • In Iraq, Anbar Faces Extremists Stronger Than Those U.S. Fought – “The extremists now committing a wave of attacks in Iraq’s Anbar province are better trained, funded and equipped than the al-Qaida-linked groups American soldiers battled there, says Brett McGurk, one of the State Department’s top officials for Iraq. The militants, who have drawn strength amid the war in Syria over the border, have taken over parts of Anbar over the last three months.”
  • Why are markets inefficient and what can be done about it?
  • What is at stake in Crimea? – “The speed at which events in Ukraine are unfolding is astounding. This column argues that the real goal of Russian President Putin is to make the February 2014 changes look like a failure. Root causes of the Ukrainian protest also exist in Russia and a victory of reform forces in Kiev could encourage stronger protest movement in Russia than that of 2011-2013 and potentially lead to a similar outcome.”
  • Endangered species – “A recent sacking reveals an historic change in the traditional structure of the newspaper industry.”
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Clive and his coat of arms

March 11th, 2014 Comments off

Tony Abbott can fly Australian Air Force 1 but Clive Palmer is not going to be outdone by that as this photo of his arrival in Tasmania on his own private jet this morning shows:


Categories: Palmer United Party Tags:

Liberals keep seeing the Palmer United Party danger signal

March 11th, 2014 Comments off

One thing you can say about Peter Reith is that he knows a danger when he sees one. And the danger currently in the sights of the former Liberal ministerial hard man is independent MP Clive Palmer.

Reith has used his Fairfax column this morning to attack Palmer and his party in a way that is becoming more common for Liberals. It appears to have dawned on supporter of the coalition government that the Palmer United Party has the potential to be as disruptive to them as the Greens have become to Labor.

2014-03-11_palmerPartially decide they will at state elections in Tasmania and South Australia this weekend with the bigger test to come with the West Australian Senate election next month.

The Liberal concern in Tasmania is well illustrated by the complaint lodged by the party’s state secretary Sam McQuestin over this advertisement published in The Mercury yesterday:


The alleged crime is the presence in the ad of those “three amigos” photographs. Under Tasmanian electoral law it is illegal to print any advertisement with a photo of a candidate without their written consent. The leaders pictured say they have not consented.

Hardly a hanging matter I would have thought but enough to have the Liberals pointing to the potential 12 months jail sentence that would rule the Palmer United Party’s Senator-Elect Jacqui Lambie, who the advertisement says authorised it, ineligible to take her seat in the Senate from 1 July. And what a pyrrhic victory for Tony Abbott’s team that would be with Ms Lambie replaced by another Senator chosen by PUP and Clive Palmer given yet another reason to be as difficult to deal with as possible.

A silly and childish game that Labor is joining in with by referring to the electoral commissioner a letter Clive Palmer has distributed to Tasmanian households in which, Labor says, he appears to have named both the Premier Lara Giddings and Opposition Leader Will Hodgman. That, according to ALP state president John Dowling, could potentially be a breach of section 196 of the Tasmanian Electoral Act making the federal MP also liable for a 12 month term in jail. Hard not to be on the Palmer side in arguing, as he did this morning saying that “as a member of the House of Representatives from Queensland I don’t feel I am restrained in naming any person in Australia, referring to them in relation to a public debate that’s going on in the country. And I don’t think there is any law that seeks to stop that freedom of speech.”

If there is such a law there shouldn’t be and the most likely result of this petty point scoring is to give PUP the attention needed to do better on Saturday than the opinion polls are currently showing.



Prosecute bankers and not just banks

March 10th, 2014 Comments off
  • Lawsky to step up assault on Wall Street’s corporate wrongdoing – Benjamin Lawsky, New York’s aggressive banking regulator who is campaigning to clean up Wall Street, is turning his sights on the individuals as well as the institutions who squeeze struggling homeowners or help banks violate US sanctions. ‘Corporations are a legal fiction. You have to deter bad individual conduct within corporations’, said Mr Lawsky, superintendent of NY’s Department of Financial Services, in an interview with the Financial Times. ‘People who did the conduct are going to be held accountable’.”
  • Forex probes set to dwarf Libor cases – The global probe into possible price rigging in foreign exchange markets has spawned a new industry centred on investigating the £5.3tn a day sector as regulators and global banks throw enormous resources at shedding light on the allegations.


  • David Cameron mocked for paying for Facebook friends – “Prime minister’s ‘selfie’ gaffe on Twitter followed by news that Tory party paid to get him more ‘likes’ on social network… The Mail on Sunday reports that the Tories have spent thousands of pounds on advertising to encourage Facebook users to “like” Cameron’s page. Marketing experts estimated that the campaign cost about £7,500, and succeeded in boosted Cameron’s “likes” by 47,000 to 127,000, overtaking Nick Clegg’s 80,000 in the process.
  • Diamonds: Natural and unnatural wonders – “How much more do you think someone should pay to propose with a stone that’s a billion years old, as opposed to one made last week in a factory?”
  • Migrants die in Yemen boat sinking – Forty-two African migrants have drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of Yemen, according to officials… Every year thousands of Africans make the perilous journey to Yemen in crowded boats. Hundreds have died.


A media veteran on a media veteran – the Phillip Adams view of Mike Willesee

March 10th, 2014 Comments off

Business purchases to curry favour with politicians and other news and views for Sunday 9 March

March 10th, 2014 Comments off
  • Market-based lobbying: Evidence from advertising spending in Italy – “Firms hoping for regulatory favours may direct their business purchases towards firms controlled by politicians, who benefit from the additional revenue. This column provides evidence from Italy consistent with this channel. It shows that the share of advertising on Berlusconi’s televisions increased while he was in power, and this even more so in the most regulated industries.”
  • 2014-03-09_berlusconiadvertisinghareChina exports hobbled by data distortions – “Chinese exports appeared to collapse in February but the weaker than expected number was mostly due to timing of the Lunar New Year holiday and the effect of rampant over-invoicing by exporters in the first months of 2013.”
  • Is the LRB one of the best magazines in the world? – “The London Review of Books has become the most successful – and controversial – literary publication in Europe. Just what is Mary-Kay Wilmers, its 75-year-old editor, getting so right?”
  • Domingo Undimmed – Plácido Domingo Defies the Gravity of Age – “He has been defying the gravity of age, and continuing to command the stages of the world’s leading opera houses, as a result of one of the more remarkable transformations in opera history. Mr. Domingo, one of the great tenors of recent memory and one-third of the Three Tenors of pop fame, is making a second career singing baritone roles.”
  • Douglas Coupland: living big – ‘The ultimate truth about weight gain in western culture is it’s great for the economy’


Media talking about media – Bolt enters the fray

March 9th, 2014 Comments off

Another entrant in what is becoming one of the major news items of the year – competitors complaining about the ABC. Here’s the Bolt Report’s Twitter summary of its own media watch segment.


Bookmakers as ticket clippers

March 9th, 2014 Comments off

With the British corporate bookmakers now dominating the trade in Australia would-be customers should note this story from Britain’s Observer showing that it is not just bankers who can clip a client’s deposit account:



Categories: Betting, Ticket clippers Tags:

The distinctive path into adulthood of the millenials and other news and views for Saturday 8 March

March 8th, 2014 Comments off

The Pew Research Center, in a major study of the differences in views between generations, describes the Millennial generation as forging a distinctive path into adulthood.

Now ranging in age from 18 to 331, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry— and optimistic about the future.

They are also America’s most racially diverse generation. In all of these dimensions, they are different from today’s older generations. And in many, they are also different from older adults back when they were the age Millennials are now.

Pew Research Center surveys show that half of Millennials (50%) now describe themselves as political independents and about three-in-ten (29%) say they are not affiliated with any religion. These are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.

At the same time, however, Millennials stand out for voting heavily Democratic and for liberal views on many political and social issues, ranging from a belief in an activist government to support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization.

2014-03-08_institutionsThe Pew research finds Millennials have been keeping their distance from that core institution of society—marriage. Just 26% of this generation is married. When they were the age that Millennials are now, 36% of Generation X, 48% of Baby Boomers and 65% of the members of the Silent Generation were married.




  • Are Calorie Counts on Nutrition Labels Making Us Fat? – “Misleading calorie counts on nutrition labels may be steering us toward energy-dense, processed foods.”
  • The Death of a Language – “When does a language begin to die? When children raised to speak it struggle to acquire a native-speaker level, and therefore the “language community” fails to regenerate itself linguistically, Joe Mac Donnacha argues. According to that definition, the evidence suggests that the condition of the Irish language has indeed become terminal.”
  • Monnet’s Brandy and Europe’s Fate – “Strobe Talbott tells the story of Jean Monnet and demonstrates how his vision of European integration may serve as a guide to ending the current eurozone crisis.”
  • Why Russia Can’t Afford Another Cold War
  • London’s Laundry Business – “Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine. Britain, open for business, no longer has a ‘mission.’ Any moralizing remnant of the British Empire is gone; it has turned back to the pirate England of Sir Walter Raleigh. Britain’s ruling class has decayed to the point where its first priority is protecting its cut of Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that, in the 21st century, what matters are banks, not tanks.”


The climate change disaster that is the Marshall Islands

March 8th, 2014 Comments off

Tidal flooding in the Marshall Islands this week – the third time this year for the capital of Majuro atoll – rated a brief mention on the overseas services of Australia’s ABC but was ignored by local mainstream media. Small natural disasters just aren’t newsworthy even if they do provide evidence of the damage being caused by rising sea levels.

The Marshall Islands Foreign Minister, Phillip Muller, pointed to the damage global warming is doing to his collection of Pacific Islands when he warned his country will be ‘wiped off the map’ unless global efforts to cut greenhouse gases accelerate.

This is the most serious king tide we have seen in the Marshall Islands for some 30 years, and the third flooding of Majuro atoll, our capital, in the last year alone.


(Click on map to enlarge)

There is no question that these events are increasing in their seriousness and regularity, consistent with the clear scientific information that sea levels are rising faster in the Central-West Pacific than nearly anywhere else in the world…

While we are doing what we can, even the most conservative estimates of sea-level rise, including from the latest US National Climate Assessment, suggest that RMI will literally be wiped off the map some time before the end of the century, given the appalling lack of effort by big emitters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions…

While king tides are not new to the Marshall Islands, their frequency and ferocity are clearly intensifying.  For those of us in the Pacific, silly discussions about scientific truth are futile.

We know what we see with our own eyes, and our tide gauges prove that the oceans are rising.  We know there is only one explanation for this unprecedented phenomenon:  climate change has arrived.


Categories: Environment, International politics Tags:

Prime Minister Abbott gives the Greens a boost

March 8th, 2014 Comments off

After last September’s federal election it was possible to think that the Green vote in Tasmania was about to sink away. The party’s Senate share fell to 11.1%, down from the 20.3% recorded in 2010 and its lowest this century. Perhaps the state election would see the Greens reduced to a meagre rump.

Not so it seems now. A ReachTel poll for the Hobart Mercury this week puts the likely Green vote at 18.2%. That is down on the 21.6% recorded at the last Tasmanian state election in 2010 but represents a minor decline compared with the complete collapse being forecast for the Labor Party it partnered in government until last months political divorce. Labor’s figure in 2010 was 36.9% and the ReachTel estimate with a week to go is 23,6%.


The Mercury commentary this morning observed:

2014-03-08_commentary Increasing the chances of the Greens actually emerging with as many or more seats than Labor surely is the crass attempt of Prime Minister Tony Abbott to back the repeal of parts of the Tasmanian forest put onto the World Heritage list. Being able to concentrate on trees rather than matters of social justice tends to maximise the Green vote and concentrate on trees in the closing days of this campaign the Greens are:

A supine Australian government response to the Malaysian treatment of Anwar Ibrahim

March 8th, 2014 Comments off

2014-03-08_anwarIt rather looks as if once again it will be left to independent Senator Nick Xenophon in Australia to dare to criticise the continuing prosecution of the prominent Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim. A Malaysian court yesterday overturned Anwar’s acquittal by a lower court on a sodomy charges and sentenced him to five years’ jail, ruling he had anal intercourse with his male aide in 2008.

The Australian Government continues to avoid making any criticism of Malaysia but the United States has voiced concern over what it says are politically motivated charges brought against Anwar, urging Malaysia to ensure fairness and transparency. “The decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “In this high-profile case, it is critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy and judiciary.” As the ABC reports, Anwar’s case was loudly condemned as politically motivated, and when asked whether this was still the US stand, Ms Psaki replied “It is.”

Last year Senator Xenophon, who earlier was refused entry into Malaysia, was instrumental in having Anwar invited to speak at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. He wrote then:

“Anwar Ibrahim is a beacon of hope for democracy not just in Malaysia but for the entire region. Despite over six years imprisonment in solitary confinement on false charges – eventually quashed – and being severely beaten in custody, Anwar remains an inspirational and optimistic icon for democratic change.

“Since being deported and banned from Malaysia earlier this year, it means I can no longer visit Anwar in his home country. It is great that he has been able to visit Adelaide to share his incredible experiences and insights with us all.”

When the Anwar visit actually took place, the Malaysian government warned it nationals studying in Australia not to attend his public gathering. Anwar used an article in The Australian to criticise the Australian government’s response to that instruction.

As a liberal democracy, the ability to be able to express views freely in a peaceful manner is a cornerstone of your society.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, after independent senator Nick Xenophon and I called on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn the threat and to protect students attending my talk, the response was so weak.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade merely responded with a statement, saying: “All students residing in Australia, including Malaysian students, enjoy all rights and liberties available under the Australian law, including the ability to attend a wide variety of legitimate events taking place in Australia. The Festival of Ideas in Adelaide is one such event.”

Contrast this with the US State Department telling the Malaysian embassy in Washington to back off when it made similar threats there.

My talk highlighted the tragic state of democracy in Malaysia, conveniently ignored by this and the previous Australian governments.

The grave flaws of Malaysia’s election system were highlighted last year by an independent, international fact-finding mission, of which Senator Xenophon was a member.

The mission flagged grave concerns about the integrity of the electoral roll, phantom voters, voter intimidation, a corruption-prone postal-voting system and, overall, the potential for massive electoral fraud.

There is also a severe gerrymander favouring the government. The Secretary General of the ruling party, for example, has only 7000 voters in his electorate. The deputy leader of the opposition has 100,000 voters in his electorate.

And major television stations and newspapers are owned by allies of the government with no airtime or space given for the opposition’s views, apart from outright vilification.

The international fact-finding mission concluded that these restrictions were draconian, because they prevented alternative views being heard.

Little wonder that the ruling coalition has never been out of power in the past 56 years.

The mission’s fears proved well founded at May’s general elections. Despite widespread voter fraud and irregularities, and the official result of almost 52% for the opposition and 47% for the government, the gerrymander still meant the ruling party holds 60% of the seats.

As for me, I am banned from entering any university campus in Malaysia. It seems my time as a professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC doesn’t qualify me to set foot on campuses in my own country!

I was overwhelmed by the response I received from the Australian public and Malaysian students in Adelaide.

Successive Australian governments have been rightly concerned when such anti-democratic processes prevailed in Myanmar. But their silence at this travesty in Malaysia is deeply saddening. And the response of Ms Bishop to threats made against Malaysian students on Australian soil truly shocks me. –, October 23, 2013.

See an earlier note on Anwar Ibrahim’s continuing political ambitions – A real job for Anwar Ibrahim? 


Categories: International politics Tags:

France boycotts the Paralympics but will still sell the warships and other news and views for Friday 7 February

March 7th, 2014 Comments off


  • France backs warship deal but not Paralympics – “Despite France’s anger over Russia’s stance towards the Crimea the country’s president François Hollande said a controversial sale of two state-of-the art warships by France to Russia was still on course. But the French government will boycott the Winter Paralympics in Sochi.”


Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

The ticket clipping update – More bankers suspended

March 7th, 2014 Comments off

From London’s Daily Telegraph:


Categories: Ticket clippers Tags:

Joe Hockey and putting the gloomiest figures forward

March 7th, 2014 Comments off

I guess that when you still want to be able to blame your predecessor for anything that’s remotely bad you need to be careful about sounding too enthusiastic about any inherited figures showing that things are in fact going ahead quite nicely. So it was that Treasurer Joe Hockey treated this week’s GDP figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the December quarter in a very downbeat fashion rather than put them in the context of the latest international summary by the OECD.


Far from pointing out how well Australia is doing compared to other developed countries he stressed a negative. “Today’s numbers,” said the Treasurer, “highlight the growth challenge that the economy will face in the next couple of years as construction on a number of large mining projects comes to an end.”

The pattern of growth in today’s numbers shows an increasing reliance on the export sector. Exports of goods and services rose 2.4 per cent in the December quarter and Australia’s trade balance shifted into surplus.  Net exports accounted for around two‑thirds of growth in the December quarter, while gross national expenditure (a measure of domestic spending) accounted for only a third.  Much of this export growth is coming from the resources sector, which needs fewer workers per dollar of production than the rest of the economy.

And then this:

Nominal GDP, the dollar value of goods and services produced in the economy, increased by 1.6 per cent in the December quarter.  This was in part because the price of iron ore held up relatively well in the December quarter, with the terms of trade rising by 0.6 per cent after falling by 3.1 per cent in the previous quarter.  World prices for both iron ore and coal have fallen since December, suggesting that the terms of trade may weigh on nominal GDP growth in the March quarter.

Not that there was any sign of that warning about iron ore and coal prices weighing on that nominal GDP growth coming true in the January trade figures released the day after the Hockey statement.

In seasonally adjusted terms, exports of non-rural goods rose $536m (3%) to $19,886m.
The main components contributing to the rise in seasonally adjusted estimates were:

. metal ores and minerals, up $290m (3%)

. other mineral fuels, up $162m (6%)

. coal, coke and briquettes, up $55m (2%)

. machinery, up $42m (6%).

The detailed export figures from that ABS release show this picture of how the mining boom is taking over from the mining investment boom:


Categories: Economic matters Tags:

A tribute to the tin whistle and other news and views for Thursday 6 February

March 7th, 2014 Comments off


Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Seven network hoping for Schapelle Corby to be returned to prison?

March 6th, 2014 Comments off

Having run the interview with Schapelle Corby’s sister Mercedes that has Indonesian officialdom considering whether Schapelle should be returned to prison, the Seven television network looks to be revelling in just that prospect.

6-03-2014 mercedesapologyIt reported tonight:

Mercedes Corby has apologised for her interview with Seven’s Sunday Night program as fears grow that her sister’s parole is at risk.

However, that apology may not be enough as the Indonesian Government is being pressured to send Schapelle Corby back to jail.

It was a unique approach: apologising for a television interview, by facing the cameras once again.

What a smugly clever comment that was! But wait. There was more. And not even a hint of sorrow at its own role in creating the predicament.

But Mercedes Corby is well aware her sister Schapelle’s new-found freedom is at stake.

Mercedes said: “From the bottom of my heart, I am very sorry to the people of Indonesia if my interview on Australian TV caused unease.”

It was a story on Seven’s Sunday Night program that has angered Indonesian officials.

They are investigating whether it breached Schapelle Corby’s strict parole conditions. The family had been warned not to talk.

The interview is making news in Indonesia too and there is increasing pressure on the Justice Minister to put Schapelle Corby back behind bars.

He has ordered a report into the incident and says he is letting the parole board get on with its task of finishing its investigation before making a decision.

The Justice Minister is not just under pressure from local media and the public, but also from his own party.

If he does not send Schapelle Corby back to jail he could be seen as weak, and face a massive backlash

With general elections due to be held in April, his political career is hanging on this decision.

The better news for Schapelle Corby came tonight, via the Antara newsagency, from the Bali Justice and Human Rights Office which welcomed the apology expressed by Mercedes Corby.,

“I think its a good step and behavior,” Sunar Agus, the head of the offices penitentiary division, said here on Thursday.

However, despite the apology, the office will continue to evaluate Schapelle following her release on parole, he added.

Sunar Agus said the apology did impact what had happened so far after Mercedes exclusive interview with Australias Channel Seven television station.

The local justice office is drafting a report on Schapelles behavior and activities since her release on parole, he noted.

The report will be sent to the Justice and Human Rights Ministry in Jakarta, he said.


Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

Cutting down on sugar – new recommendations from the WHO

March 6th, 2014 Comments off

The World Health Organisation is advising people to to halve the amount of sugar in their diet. A new WHO draft guideline on sugars intake released overnight proposes that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day. It further suggests that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits. Five per cent of total energy intake is equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index (BMI).

The suggested limits on intake of sugars in the draft guideline apply to all monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.

Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of sugar.

Categories: Eating Tags:

Recovering from a mass casualty event and other news and views for Wednesday 5 March

March 6th, 2014 Comments off


  • Multidisciplinary teams helped marathon bombing survivors rebuild their lives – It Takes a Team explains how multidisciplinary health care teams prepared for a mass-casualty event, responded to it, and helped survivors rebuild their lives afterward. The lessons and best practices that emerged are universally applicable for any clinician or professional in the emergency-preparedness/response, surgical, and rehabilitation fields.
  • Voting to tell others – “The question of why people vote has intrigued social scientists for decades. This column discusses a model of voting due to social image motivations and presents empirical tests based on it. In this model, an individual would be motivated to vote because of an anticipation of being asked after the election. The results of a conducted field experiment suggest that the anticipation of being asked provides a large motivation to vote. In fact, the motivation is as large as being paid $5-15 to vote. Applying this methodology to other elections would provide more rigorous evidence about the validity of the proposed model.”
  • EU vs. Moscow: Russia Tries to Woo Back Moldova – “As Moldova prepares to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, Russia is stepping up attempts to keep the country in its fold. It has found some willing helpers in the country/”
  • Norway’s oil fund caught between the devil and deep blue sea – “An expert group will be set up to see whether Norway’s oil fund – the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with assets of $840bn – should stop investing in any companies related to fossil fuels – not just coal, but oil and gas, too.”
  • New magnetic material could boost electronics – “A highly sensitive magnetic material that could transform computer hard drives and energy storage devices has been discovered.”
  • High Court Extends Whistleblower Protections – “The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a federal whistleblower law, enacted after the collapse of Enron Corporation, protects not just the employees of a public company, but also company contractors like lawyers, accountants, and investment funds.”
  • Poem of the Week: “The Great Wrasse” – “Mask wet and snorkel dry, I’m lying loose / On the glass roof of time” – Clive James reflects on a long friendship with fellow poet Les Murray, and on the duty of poets to rise above
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Climate change talk not causing Warren Buffett to change his insurance odds

March 5th, 2014 Comments off

When you run an insurance company you put your money where your mouth is so Warren Buffett is a man to take notice of when he comments about the impact of climate change. He does, after all, run one of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies. Assess the risk incorrectly and a reinsurance company loses its money.

So what does Warren Buffett think about the impact of climate change? He was asked just that question this week when appearing on CNBC in the United Sttes:

2014-03-05_askwarrenAnd the answer?

The effects of climate change, “if any,” have not affected the insurance market, billionaire Warren Buffetttold CNBC on Monday—adding he’s not calculating the probabilities of catastrophes any differently.

While the question of climate change “deserves lots of attention,” Buffett said in a “Squawk Box” interview, “It has no effect … [on] the prices we’re charging this year versus five years ago. And I don’t think it’ll have an effect on what we’re charging three years or five years from now.” He added, “That may change ten years from now.”

He said the U.S. has been “remarkably free of hurricanes” in the past five years with only slightly more tornadoes.

“The public has the impression that because there’s been so much talk about climate that events of the last 10 years from an insured standpoint and climate have been unusual,” he continued. “The answer is they haven’t.”



Categories: Environment Tags:

The disgusting Aussie media – spy cameras in place next to Schapelle Corby’s Bali home

March 5th, 2014 Comments off

I don’t think it is Schapelle Corby that Indonesian officials should be contemplating returning to the slammer. They should be rounding up Australian journalists and camera people and giving them a taste of prison. The more I read and see about their behaviour the worse I realise their behaviour is.

This was forwarded to me by one of my Facebook readers after my earlier posting “A sick media disgraces itself while covering each other explaining why it cannot actually tell a story about Schapelle Corby“:



Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

A sick media disgraces itself while covering each other explaining why it cannot actually tell a story about Schapelle Corby

March 5th, 2014 Comments off

It has to be the sickest media behaviour for years. The way media groups are treating the release on parole of Schapelle Corby is simply revolting. Almost all of the coverage centres not on telling the story of a woman released after being imprisoned on drug smuggling charges but on how media groups are covering other journalists peeved that they cannot bring any actual news about Schapelle.


Those “terrible” budget deficits – a 60 year look at the United States experience

March 5th, 2014 Comments off

Just occasionally, very occasionally, the US government has turned in a budget surplus.

2014-03-05_usbudgetdeficitsAnd has all that profligacy ruined the country?

Just something to think about as you listen to Joe Hockey.


They did it with wine and now Europe is turning to protect the names of it cheeses

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

So you like a King Island brie or a little bit of Italiano locally made parmesan. Well enjoy them while you can because history suggests they won’t be available for long. Not the cheeses themselves, mind you. Just the names.

The European Union is on the warpath in an effort to protect what it claims as unique European food names. It is a repeat of the successful efforts a decade or so ago to get outsiders calling their wines burgundy, moselle, port or sherry.

At the moment the pressure is being applied to the United States as part of negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but Australia’s turn is sure to come.

Before our dairy industry reacts with horror it should remember that getting the Australian wine industry to drop European names turned out to be a blessing in disguise for our industry. Major markets throughout the world did not take long to realise that accurately named wines from Australia were often of better quality and value for money than those with the historical names.

Categories: Eating, International politics Tags:

Obama’s new petrol pollution rules – will Australia follow?

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

America’s Environmental Protection Agency has announced new rules that will require oil refiners to reduce the amount of sulphur in gasoline. The rules require oil refineries, beginning in 2017, to produce petrol with just 10-parts-per-million of sulphur. That;s a reduction of two-thirds on existing limits.

USA Today reports that advocates, including environmentalists, public health officials and automakers, welcomed the news, but the U.S. oil industry said the rules will increase its costs and gasoline prices. “These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment and a win for our pocketbooks,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in the announcement. Her agency estimates they will help avoid up to 2,000 premature deaths each year and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children, saving $6.7 billion to $19 billion annually in health care costs. Once fully implemented in 2025, it says they’ll add $72 to a car’s sticker price and two-thirds of a penny to per-gallon gasoline costs.

In Australia regulations allow 50ppm of sulphur in petrol.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Human diets around the world have become more similar and other news and views noted along the way Tuesday 4 March

March 4th, 2014 Comments off


A comprehensive new study of global food supplies confirms and thoroughly documents for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar—by a global average of 36 percent—and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security.

“More people are consuming more calories, protein and fat, and they rely increasingly on a short list of major food crops, like wheat, maize and soybean, along with meat and dairy products, for most of their food,” said lead author Colin Khoury, a scientist at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. “These foods are critical for combating world hunger, but relying on a global diet of such limited diversity obligates us to bolster the nutritional quality of the major crops, as consumption of other nutritious grains and vegetables declines.”

…  The research reveals that the crops now predominant in diets around the world include several that were already quite important a half-century ago—such as wheat, rice, maize and potato. But the emerging “standard global food supply” described by the study also consists of energy-dense foods that have risen to global fame more recently, like soybean, sunflower oil and palm oil. Wheat is a major staple in 97.4 percent of countries and rice in 90.8 percent; soybean has become significant to 74.3 percent of countries.

In contrast, many crops of considerable regional importance—including cereals like sorghum, millets and rye, as well as root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam—have lost ground. Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops—for which globally comparable data are not available—have suffered the same fate. For example, a nutritious tuber crop known as Oca, once grown widely in the Andean highlands, has declined significantly in this region both in cultivation and consumption.

  • Putin’s Kampf – Charles Tannock, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament, writes:’Russia’s seizure of Crimea is the most naked example of peacetime aggression that Europe has witnessed since Nazi Germany invaded the Sudetenland in 1938. It may be fashionable to belittle the “lessons of Munich,” when Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier appeased Hitler, deferring to his claims on Czechoslovakia. But if the West acquiesces to Crimea’s annexation – the second time Russian President Vladimir Putin has stolen territory from a sovereign state, following Russia’s seizure of Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in 2008 – today’s democratic leaders will surely regret their inaction.’
  • Why Obama Shouldn’t Fall for Putin’s Ukrainian Folly – “If there is one absolutely undeniable fact about Ukraine, which screams from every election and every opinion poll since its independence two decades ago, it is that the country’s population is deeply divided between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments. Every election victory for one side or another has been by a narrow margin, and has subsequently been reversed by an electoral victory for an opposing coalition. What has saved the country until recently has been the existence of a certain middle ground of Ukrainians sharing elements of both positions; that the division in consequence was not clear cut; and that the West and Russia generally refrained from forcing Ukrainians to make a clear choice between these positions.”
  • The New Ukraine: Inside Kiev’s House of Cards – “In the days after Yanukovych’s fall, the Ukrainian president’s lavish lifestyle spurred outrage around the world. Now the provisional government is struggling to avoid the corruption and clientelism that plagued its predecessors.”
  • The Russo-Papal Alliance in the Mideast – What has brought Russia’s Putin and Pope Francis together?

The government speaks hypocritical nonsense on airlines and an abolition of the carbon tax

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

Read the Coalition’s election policy on the carbon tax and the hypocritical nonsense being spoken by the now Coalition government on ways to help Qantas becomes absolutely apparent.

The policy taken to the election promised to impose heavy fines “to prevent price exploitation attributable in any way to the carbon tax.” But now, as pointed out by the Owl yesterday in “The very strange nature of Australia’s carbon tax”, airlines are being urged to pocket for themselves the tax saved.


Searching an ABC site unsuccessfully for a correction to comments affecting Clive Palmer

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

My morning Twitter glancing led me to this:


A perfectly civil correction and without the lawyer’s mumbo-jumbo in which such things are normally written. It made me wonder how the ABC presented it on its Gold Coast station website.

2014-03-04_nicoledyerI can’t tell you because I could not find it.

Ah well, it will at least give that ABC’s correction column in next Monday’s Australian something real to report on


Categories: Environment, Lobbying and PR, Media Tags:

Sending lobbying underground – government relations and government affairs

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

2014-03-04_shadowlobbying(Click to enlarge)

The Shadow Lobbying Complex – On paper, the influence-peddling business is drying up. But lobbying money is flooding Washington, DC like never before. What’s going on?- The Nation

Click on the cover illustration above and you will get a good guide to the lobbying business in Washington that applies almost equally to Canberra.

To encourage you to read the whole article, here are a few excerpts

A November report from McKinsey & Company estimated that the “business value at stake from government and regulatory intervention” is about 30 percent of earnings for companies in most sectors. Simply put, government policies can mean the difference of billions of dollars for major companies, and spending on politics offers a superb payoff.

… Rather than using the L-word to describe what they do, many lobbyists prefer the more banal rubric of “government relations” or “government affairs.” Reflecting this trend, the American League of Lobbyists—a professional association for the industry—changed its name in November to the Association of Government Relations Professionals. And while lobbyists must report their payments from clients, those ducking the system quietly bring in the biggest paydays.

…  head of public affairs—another euphemism for influence peddling popular among unregistered lobbyists

…Designed to ensure that regular citizens petitioning their government would not be forced to register as lobbyists, the LDA has a three-pronged test to determine who must register—a test that inadvertently allows Washington’s biggest influence peddlers to ignore the disclosure law. According to this test, a lobbyist is an individual (1) who earns at least $2,500 from lobbying over a three-month period; (2) whose services include more than one lobbying contact; and (3) who spends at least 20 percent of his time during a three-month period making “lobbying contacts.” If a lobbyist can argue that just one of these descriptions doesn’t apply to him, he is not required to register.

Lobbyists, moreover, are considered lobbyists only if they advocate on behalf of a certain position on legislation; if they’re simply gathering intelligence, they’re not considered lobbyists under the law.

… it had merely sought to collect information rather than advocate a certain position—a key difference that would excuse the company from registering as a lobbying firm.

… One of the biggest problems with lobbying registration is that the LDA was never intended to cover so-called “outside lobbying.” Like previous iterations of the law, the current system does nothing to regulate the fake grassroots groups that enraged Senator Black, or the surrogate think tanks and public relations gimmicks used to corral popular support for special-interest legislative campaigns. Many lobbying businesses offer a full range of capabilities that fall well outside the LDA’s definition of lobbying.

You will find other stories on similar subject at the Owl’s ‘Lobbying and PR’ Category Archives

Categories: Lobbying and PR Tags:

Jumping for joy – the secret life of cows

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

Just a little something to brighten your day

The Secret Lives Of Cows: Jumping For Joy

Cows Literally Jump For Joy After Being Freed From A Dairy Farm Into An Open Field Again

See the whole performance:

Categories: Animal welfare Tags:

A Ukraine newspaper’s view – Occupation

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

4-03-2014 theday14-03-2014 theday24-03-2014 ukraineview

Categories: European media, Media Tags:

Some thoughts on coalition governments and other news and views for Monday 3 March

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Some news and views noted along the way

3-03-2014 inittogether

  • Coalition Monsters – “Common sense in British politics tends to be aligned with the wisdom of party managers: that the electorate abhors uncertainty, and is incapable of understanding either internal party divisions or Continental-style coalitions. Only very occasionally, when the whips are thwarted by force of circumstance, do the voters – and indeed a frustrated cadre of pragmatic and independent-minded politicians – escape the iron cage of partisan constraint.”
  • Leave designer suits at home, China’s National People’s Congress tells delegates – “BEIJING — There will be no Hermes, Chanel or other fashion brands on display at China’s National People’s Congress, which opens Wednesday. Instead, the congress’ organizers are telling delegates that this time, things need to be frugal, quick and to the point. And also, remember which bottle of water is yours.”
  • In search of new sales, defense contractors embrace energy market -“[Lockheed Martin] said it had signed a deal with Victorian Wave Partners to develop the largest wave energy project to date. The $205 million project will use special buoys that pull energy from the motion of ocean waves… In another major deal, Lockheed last year announced it was partnering with a Chinese firm to build a plant off the coast of southern China to covert the ocean’s thermal energy to electricity. The technology uses the temperature difference between the warm surface water of the ocean and the cold water much lower to create a generating cycle.”
  • Psst, have you heard that gossip is good for us?– “.. High quality global journalism requires investment. according to recent research from Stanford University, published in Psychological Science, not only have I done no harm by gossiping, I have been making the world a finer place. Talking about people behind their backs increases co-operation, upholds the moral code, punishes the selfish and rewards the unselfish. And if people know they get voted off the island for bad behaviour, they behave less badly.”
  • Underrated: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – “The star of Pussy Riot combines beauty and charisma with quiet courage and a remarkable mind.”

3-03-2014 thermonuclear

  • On Thermonuclear Monarchy: An Interview with Elaine Scarry – “In the nuclear age, Constitutions have been belittled and deformed by having their war provisions ignored. So, too, social contract theory has been set aside in the nuclear age. One of the leading theorists of peace, Thomas Hobbes has been turned upside down into an apologist for executive war making…”
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

A dig at the ABC with a sense of humour

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off


The very strange nature of Australia’s carbon tax

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off

In question time today government ministers – Tony Abbott, Warren Truss and Christopher Pyne – went on and on claiming that the abolition of the carbon tax would be the best way of solving the financial problems of Qantas and saving the jobs of the airline’s staff. The assumption of the answers was that the tax money saved would go to the airlines.

But when referring to the impact of the removal of the carbon tax on energy producers the government argument is that consumers would be the beneficiaries. Indeed the government would be insisting that the tax savings were passed on down the line.

A strange tax indeed.

Two twitter views of the trial of Oscar Pretorius – Oscar’s PR team and Reeva Steenkamp’s friends

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Just as well that in South Africa murder trials are before a judge sitting alone. The Oscar Pretorius hearing beginning today will have some unique coverage via Twitter that would have Australian courts choked with contempt of court actions.

Oscar has his own account but it will not be providing regular updates.


As he tweeted a few days ago he has delegated that task to @OscarHardTruth which is being run by his PR advisers.


For the other side of things there are friends of Reeva Steenkamp.



Categories: Lobbying and PR Tags:

Proof of the need to laugh about opinion polls a long way out from an election

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off

From page one of The Australian this morning with the headline “O’Farrell steadies support after summer of discontent”.


Mark Coultan, the paper’s NSW political correspondent explained the poll results thus:

NSW’S opposition Labor Party has failed to dent the popularity of the state’s Coalition government, despite a summer dominated by controversy over alcohol-fuelled violence and the investigation of three Liberal MPs by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The latest Newspoll, conducted exclusively for The Australian, shows the Liberal-Nationals coalition remains in a dominant position, with a two-partypreferred vote of 58 per cent, largely unchanged from the previous poll, in September and October last year.

The one piece of good news for Labor is that Premier Barry O’Farrell’s personal satisfaction rating fell and his dissatisfaction rating rose, reversing all the gains of the previous survey.

Unfortunately for Labor, the satisfaction ratings of its leader John Robertson suffered the same fate, falling one percentage point, while his dissatisfaction rating rose three points over that time.

From page one of the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday under the headline “Poll shock Labor takes the lead – Corruption fallout hits O’Farrell”


Sean Nicholls State Political Editor explained the poll results thus:

Voters have turned on the O’Farrell government and are threatening to throw it out of office after just one term in a dramatic resetting of the political contest in NSW.

If the 15 per cent swing was applied uniformly across the state it would see the Coalition lose up to 25 seats – wiping out gains it made in western Sydney, the central coast and the Hunter three years ago.

The poll of 1000 voters was conducted between February 22-26, shortly after the Independent Commission Against Corruption announced an inquiry involving former resources minister Chris Hartcher and two other government MPs, Chris Spence and Darren Webber.

It also coincides with ructions between the Liberals and Nationals over the push by Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson to take over the seat of Goulburn from Community Services Minister Pru Goward.

So there you have it. The Liberal government two points behind on the two party vote one day and 16 points in front two days later. There’s something there for everyone.

John Howard joins in the PUP attack

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off

3-03-2014 howardThe evidence mounts that the Liberals see the Palmer United Party as its new principal opponent. Former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard took up the theme of the Party’s sneaky advertising on a visit to Tasmania at the weekend.

A vote for the Palmer United Party would cost jobs and be a waste, Mr Howard told a fund raising dinner in Launceston on Saturday while warning about what he says would be a mis-direction of non-Labor votes.

“Coalition government doesn’t work in a state that needs economic development,” he said.

“It is obvious that there is only one party that can form a majority government _  that is the Liberal party.

“Now the only real threat to that _ and therefore the Liberal majority government _ is that people who do not want Labor might decide to waste their vote with the Palmer party.

“If Palmer gets one or two seats he is then in the position to bargain with the Liberal party in relation to another coalition government and you have seen over the last four years that those things don’t work.

“A state like Tasmania needs to send a clear message to the rest of the country that investment is welcome and that jobs are a top priority and it can only do that if it is unfettered, if it can have a clear majority in its own right.”


Categories: Elections, Tasmanian election Tags:

Will free-rider problems sabotage any hope of an international agreement on climate change?

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Back in my Crikey days I wrote several times of my apprehension that despite all the evidence about the damage to come from global warming that the international community would prove incapable of reaching an agreement on what to do about it. The main task of an Australian government should thus, I argued, be about preparing for what we should be doing about it at home rather than wasting all the effort and energy on pretending that we could contribute to a world-wide solution.

My reading today of a paper by Derek Kellenberg, Department Chair & Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Montana and Arik Levinson Professor, Economics Department, Georgetown University has reinforced my pessimism. Their paper “Waste of effort? International environmental agreements” looks at the economic theory predicting that international environmental agreements will fail due to free-rider problems and previous empirical work suggesting that such agreements do not in fact reduce emissions.

The specific subject of the two professors is the Basel Convention and Ban on trade in hazardous waste. The Convention, they note, was adopted to address concerns about so-called ‘toxic trade’ – waste shipments from industrialised countries to parts of the world where disposal is presumably less safe.

Although hazardous waste disposal is a local issue and might not appear to require international cooperation, if some countries cannot appropriately regulate disposal or prevent importation on their own, trade restrictions may be a second-best policy. As a consequence, the Convention’s Ban Amendment prohibits all exports of hazardous waste from countries listed in Annex 7 (all OECD and European Union countries plus Liechtenstein) to all other countries not listed in Annex 7.

Their examination of import and export data reached the sad conclusion that there was “no evidence that Annex-7 countries that ratified the Ban slowed their exports to non-Annex-7 countries as the agreement requires.”


In a concluding summary of their study soon to be published in the forthcoming inaugural issue of the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists they write:

Might these results have implications for other international environmental problems, such as climate change? At one level the issues seem quite different. Climate change involves a global pollutant emitted at the place where goods are used or produced, whereas hazardous wastes are local pollutants separated from their place of generation and shipped globally. That difference means that the world’s hazardous waste problems are potentially solvable without international agreements, because the pollution does not typically span international borders. In that respect, the fact that the Basel Convention and Ban appear ineffective is disheartening, and suggests that alternative policy mechanisms and strategies that go beyond voluntary IEAs [International Environmental Agreements] may be needed to solve large global problems like climate change.

Categories: Environment, International politics Tags:

The Ukraine – what ethnic origins live where, speak what language and practice what religion and other news and views for Sunday 2 March

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off


  • From the CIA World Factbook – Ethnic groups: Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belarusian 0.6%, Moldovan 0.5%, Crimean Tatar 0.5%, Bulgarian 0.4%, Hungarian 0.3%, Romanian 0.3%, Polish 0.3%, Jewish 0.2%, other 1.8% (2001 census) Languages: Ukrainian (official) 67%, Russian 24%, other (includes small Romanian-, Polish-, and Hungarian-speaking minorities) 9% Religions: Ukrainian Orthodox – Kyiv Patriarchate 50.4%, Ukrainian Orthodox – Moscow Patriarchate 26.1%, Ukrainian Greek Catholic 8%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox 7.2%, Roman Catholic 2.2%, Protestant 2.2%, Jewish 0.6%, other 3.2% (2006 est.)
  • Ukraine: What emergency measures and what long-term changes are needed? – “Ukraine’s ‘February Revolution’ is threatened by the nation’s dire economic straits. The column discusses short- and long-term changes that are necessary to get the nation through this crisis and back on the track to stability.”
  • Haven’t I Seen You Before? Why News Reports Quote The Same People
  • Well-funded program tries new approach to tackle overfishing in developing world
  • Debt-for-equity swaps offer Greece a better way – “Greece needs debt reduction. This column argues that instead of offering another lengthening of maturities and reduction in interest rates, Eurozone leaders should seize the occasion and implement debt-for-equity swaps that would encourage foreign investment, speed privatisation and jumpstart the Greek economy.”
  • The unpredictability of revolution – “Three years after the start of the Arab Spring, Egypt’s capital city is feeling the impact of the revolution in some surprising ways. At the chaotic height of Egypt’s revolution against the brilliantined autocrat Hosni Mubarak, every single member of the uniformed security forces suddenly disappeared from the streets. It felt like the last word in disorder – a police state without actual policemen. They are long since back of course, not bringing order exactly, but presiding pompously over a reduced level of chaos.”
  • Abenomics struggles to deliver Japan public works boom – “When Tokyo asked for bidders to build what is expected to be the world’s largest fish market on the city’s vacant eastern edge there were no takers… Many firms are choosing to walk away from government projects rather than invest more in equipment or hire workers – fixed costs that would be hard to shed in the next downturn. In the midst of a building boom, Japan’s construction companies, who stand to benefit most directly from Abe’s policies, are acting as though the good times will not last.”
  • Three Accidental Coal Fires That Have Been Burning For Weeks, Months, And Decades


Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Another variation on the dole bludger theme

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off

2014-03-02_notravelnodole2014-03-02_jobsnobsEvery time I see a tabloid beat-up like that I cannot help turning to the website of the Australian Bureau of Statistics where this morning I found this:

  • The number of unemployed persons increased by 16,600 to 728,600 in January 2014 (seasonally adjusted), while in trend terms the number of unemployed persons in January 2014 rose by 5,200 to 717,700.
  • Total job vacancies in November 2013 were 140,000, a decrease of 0.3% from August 2013. (The vacancy figures are only published quarterly with November being the last available.)

2014-03-02_jobvacanciesI for one would be a lot angrier about dole bludgers if there actually were jobs they were all  bludging away from.



Sneaky Liberals in attack on the Palmer United Party

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off

A keen observer of electoral advertising would realise that Sam McQuestin is a key player in the Tasmanian Liberal Party team. The state party director’s name is the one that appears at the bottom of all the Liberal ads.

2-03-2014 libadBut when it comes to being negative about the Palmer United Party, Sam prefers not to disclose his Liberal Party affiliation. From this morning’s Sunday Tasmanian:

2-03-2014 sneakyliberalsProbably a sign of just how concerned the Tassie Liberals are that PUP just might do well enough to thwart their efforts to become a majority government.



Categories: Elections, Tasmanian election Tags:

Something remarkable must happen for Labor to survive in South Australia

March 1st, 2014 Comments off

Grim news for the South Australian Labor Government this morning. Newspoll in The Australian has it well behind with the election just a fortnight away.

1-03-2014 sanewspoll

Categories: SA election, SA Polls Tags:

Don’t let people see the cruelty to animals

March 1st, 2014 Comments off

‘Ag Gag’ Bill Takes Effect In Idaho; Bans Undercover Filming At Farms : The Two-Way : NPR.

Idaho’s Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has signed a bill that criminalizes the act of secretly filming animal abuse at agricultural facilities. The move comes days after the state’s legislature approved the measure.

“Otter, a rancher, said the measure promoted by the dairy industry ‘is about agriculture producers being secure in their property and their livelihood,'” according to the AP.

Under the law signed today, anyone caught making secret video recordings of agricultural operations could face a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. The legislation refers to “the crime of interference with agricultural production.”

Idaho is one of at least 10 states that have taken up so-called “ag gag” legislation after “videos revealing apparent cruel treatment of farm animals went viral” in recent years, as Kathleen Masterson reported for NPR in 2012.

The Idaho legislation was introduced after “Los Angeles-based vegetarian and animal rights group Mercy for Animals showing workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating, stomping and sexually abusing cows in 2012,” the AP says.

Categories: Animal welfare Tags:

“Electricity privatisation in Australia – a record of failure” and other news and views for Saturday 1 March

March 1st, 2014 Comments off





Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Time to start taking notice of Victorian opinion polls

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With only nine months to go before the Victorian state election we are now at the point where opinion polls start to tell us something relevant. And the message from this morning’s Nielsen survey result in The Age is that the Liberal-National coalition government has a real battle on its hand to win again. The Age reports that the poll of 1000 Victorian voters taken during the past week shows the Coalition’s primary vote stuck at 41 per cent, well below the peak of 45 per cent achieved at the November 2010 election, with Labor on 37 per cent and the Greens on 13 per cent.

1-03-2014 victorianpoll

Not of such relevance in my opinion is the Nielsen poll of voting intentions in New South Wales where the next election is 13 months away. As published in the Sydney Morning Herald the poll has Labor hitting the front on the two party preferred vote for the first time since its disastrous result in 2014. If I was a Sydney Liberal I would not be at panic stations yet but I would be trying to persuade the Daily Telegraph to stop taking cheap shots at Premier Barry O’Farrell.

1-03-2014 nswpollJust in passing I note that in Victoria, where the opinion poll probably does say something meaningful, The Age consigned it to an inside page. In NSW, where the next election is much further away. the new tabloid Saturday Herald used the egg beater to make it a tasty front page tale.


How the sausage is made

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‘The Meat Racket’ and ‘In Meat We Trust’ –

Boy, are we ever conflicted about our food, and never is this more obvious than when it comes to the thing that we, as a nation, consume more of than just about anyone else on earth: meat.

This is in some way the point of both Christopher Leonard’s brilliant, in-depth portrait of Tyson Foods, “The Meat ­Racket,” and Maureen Ogle’s “In Meat We Trust,” her fascinating history of what she calls “Carnivore America.” Food production is not just about food — it’s about almost everything else, too, from politics to culture to economics. Both books elucidate two guiding contradictions of the American experience. The first is that we are suspicious of big businesses, even as we worship the individuals who build them. Second, we loathe industrial food production, even as we continue to move en masse to cities and suburbs, thereby deepening our dependence on cheap, ubiquitous edibles.

Categories: Eating Tags:

Gerard Henderson gracefully accepts an invitation – Fox News versus the ABC in providing a plurality of views

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Last Saturday, after giving links to some of the strange views of conservative commentators on Fox News, I invited Gerard Henderson to provide some examples in his Media Watch Dog blog of Fox’s left wing commentary that justify a comment he had made that Fox News provides a greater plurality of views than Australia’s ABC. Yesterday he kindly did so:


MWD used to read “Richard Farmer’s Chunky Bits” column in Crikey — until Mr Farmer got sacked. Your man Farmer always managed to be informative and refrained from writing about himself — unlike his successors at the leftist Crikey newsletter like Jane Caro (See MWD Issue 214). And now for something quite substantial.

In his blog Politicalowl last Saturday, Richard Farmer referred to this comment by Gerard Henderson in The Weekend Australian of 22-23 February 2014, viz:

The ABC declines to acknowledge the point. But a greater plurality of views can be heard on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News channel in the United States than on the taxpayer funded broadcaster in Australia. The ABC does not have one conservative presenter or producer or editor for any of its prominent television or radio or online outlets.

Richard Farmer went on to cite examples of some conservative or right-of-centre presenters and commentators and concluded:

I’ll leave it to Gerard to give some examples of Fox’s left-wing commentary in his Media Watch Dog blog next Friday.

MWD just loves a challenge. Here is a list of Fox News presenters and/or paid contracted commentators who are left-of-centre types — or “liberals” in the American sense of the term.

▪ Bob Beckel: Formerly a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in Jimmy Carter’s administration and former national campaign manager for Walter Mondale.

▪ Kirsten Powers: Formerly a Deputy Assistant US Trade Representative for Public Affairs in Bill Clinton’s administration.

▪ Geraldo Rivera: A self-proclaimed Democrat voter and vocal supporter of President Barack Obama.

▪ Alan Colmes: A self-proclaimed left-liberal commentator who is consistently critical of conservatives.

▪ Joe Trippi: Formerly a campaign manager for Howard Dean, Tony Blair and Edward Kennedy.

Fox News has one channel. The ABC has two — ABC 1 and ABC News 24 along with numerous radio stations. There is not one conservative employed by the ABC as a presenter or paid contracted commentator on any of its prominent outlets. But Fox News has at least five left-of-centre presenters or paid contracted commentators who appear on its prominent programs.